The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Kansas Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday October 5, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Kansas Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday October 5, 2009


The Key Moment: Tony Stewart and his team elected to change two tires on the final stop to take the lead. Stewart held off a determined late-race challenge from Jeff Gordon to score the win.

In a Nutshell: Another McRace on another McTrack. The status quo is Toto-ally unacceptable unless you have the brains of a scarecrow.

Dramatic Moment: Early in the final run, Gordon was closing quickly on Stewart’s red Chevy.

Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle staged a prolonged side-by-side battle for the lead during the middle stages of the race.

There was some decent racing towards the back of the top 10.

Undramatic Moment: The whole rest of the race.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

As good as Greg Biffle’s car was on just two fresh tires, why did his team elect to go with four new tires late? For that matter, as good as Jimmie Johnson’s car was on four fresh tires, why did Chad Knaus elect to change only two tires on the No. 48 team’s final pit stop?

If Dale Earnhardt’s stricken Chevy had in fact dropped fluid on the track to bring out the final caution, there sure didn’t seem to be a whole lot of effort to clean it up once the yellow flew. Maybe NASCAR just didn’t want another fuel mileage snoozer finish?

There’s a lot not to like about Tony Stewart, but you have to admire a guy who gets out of a winning Cup car and is more excited that he has a chance to run a dirt late model later that evening than at winning the big race.

For all the criticisms of ESPN/ABC’s NASCAR coverage (and a lot of it is valid) has anyone else noticed that they’re now featuring long segments of coverage without commercial interruption late in the race? The network is also doing a lot better job focusing on where the on-track action is rather than focusing the lead hypnotically on the leaders as they run several seconds apart.

I’ve been told more than once that I’m a simpleton. But I don’t get the uproar over the Nos. 48 and 5 teams being warned that their cars were “nearly” outside the limits of being legal after Dover. There are rules that dictate what’s legal and what’s not. It’s the crew chief and the team’s job, nay their obligation to push that envelope to its ripping point — without actually crossing the line — in the search for speed. “Nearly legal” is like “almost pregnant.” Either you is or you ain’t. Gee, the most successful team on the circuit is bringing cars to the track that push the limits of the rules. Color me surprised. Somewhere, Junior Johnson is browning his overalls laughing.

Leading analysts predict Ford will sell more cars than GM by 2012. You have to wonder if Ford might win another Cup race before then. So much for “Win On Sunday, Sell on Monday.”

Ripped from the headlines: Fans can be a part of a Foreigner video at Fontana next weekend! Sure, one final act of rebellion before you get a haircut, stop dressing stupid, and apply for Social Security! Hey, you know if it’s on Rhino Records, it’s going to be a class act.

It’s a pet peeve of mine I’ve mentioned before. The only racers who are really fast on “two tires” are on motorcycles. Greg Biffle was not fast on “two tires.” I counted them. The 16 car had four tires, two of them fresher than the other two.

So is AFLAC paying the bills for Carl Edwards as his broken foot heals? I’m thinking a lot of repetitive ad-weary fans would love to see AFLAC serve Edwards up a heaping plate of Duck McNuggets.

Just when the whole George Gillett/RPM/Yates story seemed it couldn’t get any more bizarre, this week the possibility of an investment by a member of the Saudi royal family emerged. Remember the adage from creative writing classes in high school? Four things sell a story: religion, royalty, sex, and mystery. “Oh, my God, I’m pregnant!” sighed the princess. “I wonder who done it?”

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Hopefully, George Gillett’s cell phone plan comes with some international minutes thrown in.

Saturday at Kansas worked out a lot better for Joey Logano than Sunday’s Cup event. His race started off with a spin on Lap 2. Then, in trying to get back to the front, Logano ran into the back of Elliott Sadler who had checked up for a wreck in front of them.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s weekend started out well with an outside pole qualifying effort. Early in the race, Junior led more laps than he has at any event since Talladega this Spring. But a lost lug nut on a pit stop torpedoed the No. 88 team’s effort, while an oil pump belt failure just ended Earnhardt’s misery. Earnhardt, who turns 35 next Saturday, had better either refocus on racing soon or just settle for the wad of money he’s already earned for mediocrity and a famous last name.

Kansas was another disappointing day for Richard Childress Racing. Casey Mears finished 15th, while Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, and Kevin Harvick struggled home 21st, 23rd, and 24th, respectively.

Matt Kenseth’s Ford dropped a valve, forcing Kenseth to endure his first DNF since he lost an engine at Las Vegas.

You think the guys at Michael Waltrip’s fab shop are ready to throw an early retirement party for their boss just to keep him from tearing up any more cars?

My guess is that Kyle Busch has about had it with dominating Nationwide races only to get passed in the final ten laps by teammate Joey Logano. With Yoda-like wisdom young master Busch noted, “This sucks.”

Bobby Labonte and the 71 team lost the newest car in their fleet thanks to an accident not of their own making.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

A timely caution flag fell perfectly for Juan Pablo Montoya, who had a tire equalizing under green.

Greg Biffle started 31st but an early two fresh tire stop allowed him to move up into the top 5, a position he rarely relinquished all day.

When Kurt Busch slapped the wall hard late in the race, it appeared his day was over. Somehow, he soldiered on to an 11th place finish.

Given their level of support and his part-time status as a driver, the Wood Brothers and Bill Elliott can take some pride in their 19th place run. There are a lot of teams with a lot more money that would have welcomed that finish.

Worth Noting

  • Chevy clinched this year’s manufacturer title – their seventh in a row.
  • Rick Hendrick-owned or supported teams have won all three of this year’s Chase races.
  • Tony Stewart’s win was not only his first victory since Watkins Glen, it was his first top 5 finish in that same stretch of races.
  • Jeff Gordon has only won one race this season, but he’s now finished second seven times.
  • Greg Biffle’s third place finish was his best since Dover this Spring.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya now has top 5 finishes in all three Chase races, earning him the Stylistics “Betcha, By Golly, Wow” award for the surprise of the championship hunt to date.
  • Denny Hamlin (fifth) now has top 10 finishes in eight of the last nine Cup races.
  • Mark Martin’s seventh place finish was actually his worst since Michigan. Shine on you, crazy diamond…
  • David Reutimann’s eighth place finish was his first top 10 result in four races.
  • Carl Edwards (tenth) eked out his first top 10 finish since Michigan in August.
  • Mark Martin’s seventh pole of the season breaks his previous career mark of six set way back in 1989. Incidentally, Martin won the pole for the third and fourth races of his Cup career.
  • The top 10 finishers at Kansas drove five Chevys, two Fords, a Dodge, and two Toyotas, presumably without their throttles stuck to the floor by floor mats.
  • Scott Speed (27th) edged out fellow rookie Joey Logano for the top finishing rookie honors this week.
  • Under the old points system, Tony Stewart would now be leading second place Jeff Gordon by 195 points, and I’d be good with that. Stewart has now won four races to Gordon’s one, and we’d be spared Alan Bestwick’s constant bleating about the Chase standings during a race. “If points were awarded now…” They’re not going to be. Shud-up-already-wouldja?

What’s the Points?

Mark Martin held onto his points lead and is now eighteen points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who remains second in the standings. (And Charlie Brown almost got his kite past the Kite-Eating Tree.) Juan Pablo Montoya remains third, now trailing Martin by 51 points.

The race win moves Tony Stewart up a spot to fourth in the standings, closing to within 67 of Martin. Stewart’s advance thrusts Kurt Busch back a spot to fifth, while Denny Hamlin remains sixth, the final driver within 100 points (actually 99) of the lead.

Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle each moved up a spot to seventh and eighth in the standings, while Ryan Newman fell two spots to ninth. Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne each advanced a spot to tenth and eleventh, while Brian Vickers is now the Chase’s “cellar dweller” in twelfth.

Kyle Busch takes over the “Bill Murray/Meatballs – It just doesn’t matter” spot, 13th in the standings. Matt Kenseth falls to 14th.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — We’ll give this one three cans of lukewarm Schlitz. It was actually somewhat better than expected (gas mileage didn’t decide the race) but we live in an era of diminished expectations.

Next Up: As it struggles to capture the hearts of fans and better TV ratings, the circuit heads off to Fontana. Wait a second: Fontana, one of the most relentlessly insipid tracks on the circuit? Jezum Crow, Pa, is this going to be the last season that Brian France allows the NFL programming honchos to draw up the Chase schedule?

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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10/05/2009 01:25 AM

What I do not understand about the 5 and 48 cars, is if they were legal why they can not bring them back to the track?

10/05/2009 01:34 AM

Did anyone see all the empty seats at the Jacksonville game? Looked like some of the Cup races this year.

Bad Wolf
10/05/2009 02:09 AM

I can’t wait till next weeks “White Bread Vanilla Pudding Rice Cakes Powdered Sugar Milque Toast 500” Presented by Pepto Bismol from Fontana.

10/05/2009 07:51 AM

Watching that dog drop a deuce during the Clint Bowyer interview was more entertaining than this race.

10/05/2009 08:04 AM

oh hum….hendrick, i mean stewart/haas won.

in church sunday am, before service, us race fans were talking about jr’s spectacular starting spot. the cynic that i am, said “watch, he’ll rim ride and hit the wall or will have pit issues”…sure wished i could pick the winning mega game lottery numbers like i called the jr race results from sunday.

Bill B
10/05/2009 08:28 AM

My guess is that the 5 and 48 weren’t barely within the limits but barely outside. It’s easier for NASCAR to say barely within and issue a warning than saying barely outside and having to deal with those ramifications. Once again that’s just my guess but I am with Matt, I don’t see why anything would be said (especially to the media) if the cars were barely within the limits. I mean, that’s the whole point.

I thought the race was decent just for the fact that there were a fair amount of lead changes (I know that’s a BS stat) and there was some passing. On the downside, as always, whomever got out front could drive away. (They’ve really got to fix that).

10/05/2009 08:28 AM

Hey, BadWolf: Now THAT’S FUNNY!!! The races in Fontana are the only ones that I do my best to have something else to do so I can’t justify watching them. Next week I’ll be sitting in my kitchen watching the linoleum peel.

10/05/2009 08:49 AM

here’s something to think about….can jr stay in top 25 in points at the end of the season? he’s only got to slip 3 more spots.

The Turnip
10/05/2009 08:50 AM

Well, first, and this attacks yet again the “credibility” of NA$CRAP!


AND! Does ANYONE really believe these cars were “legal”? When an apparent “simple push” would move the body enough to “make it legal” (isn’t that what they claimed made it too close to tolerance to begin with?)

I vote for the FACT they WERE out of spec, but NA$CRAP simply did not want to BIAS the “CHASE”!

And second, lets see now, but let me refer you to my nic, THE TURNIP! (AS IN DUMB AS)

We now have the ten (10) race “chumpionship” battle going on, that is ONLY for TWELVE (12) drivers!

So my learned sports fans! My very succinct question, and one the befuddles the jesus out of me! IS?


Again I ask, “I thought ONLY twelve (12) drivers were in the running for the chumpionship?”

How can a couple of them finish 22 & 37?

Shouldn’t that really be 11th & 12th?

As I said, I am befuddled! (at best)

10/05/2009 09:19 AM

Wow, Matt, no mention of how NASCAR told Brad Keselowski not to race hard against Chase cars? I thought you’d be all over that.

Otherwise great column as usual.

10/05/2009 10:08 AM

I didn’t realize there was a lot of things NOT to like about Tony Stewart . I suspect a majority of race fans would agree with me .
The 5 and 48 teams were told not bring those cars back to the racetrack in their current form . I read that as illegal , but NASCAR doesn’t want to upset Rick Hendrick by actually calling his teams cheaters .
Losing a belt off of the oil pump drive does not cause an oil leak of any kind . Jr. having a problem was the perfect excuse for a manufacturerd caution .
Speaking of phoney cautions , NASCAR must think no one tapes these races . One week a car spins and is sitting in the middle of the track on the last lap , yet no caution . This week a caution flies for any car that even looks like it might have touched the wall . Except for the single car incident near the end . Exact same scenario as all of the earlier cautions , yet no yellow .

10/05/2009 10:17 AM

NASCAR gives the teams a tolerance of .070 and from what I’ve read the #48 was .006 over the TOLERANCE, not under. To me, if your OVER the tolerance you should be penalised. Now if they, the #48, was UNDER by .006 that’s different. Am I correct, that the #48 was OVER by .006? I know .006 isn’t much but NASCAR already gave them .070 to stay WITHIN!

10/05/2009 10:30 AM

“Chevy clinched this year’s manufacturer title – their seventh in a row. “

Boy…if Toyota had done that the world of nascar would be turned on it’s head. There would be one test after another until they “found something”.

Was it in ’07 when chevy won 2/3rds of the season and everything was fine? And the very next year Toyota won a lot and nascar had to test those engines.

Boy, if only Hendrick would switch to Toyota!

Ed - Georgia
10/05/2009 10:52 AM

There was a race yesterday? Oops, I forgot.

10/05/2009 11:20 AM

Did anyone notice the empty seats at this big race track that has only 80,000 seats and wants a second date.

Big Donkey
10/05/2009 12:01 PM

What’s the difference between a body being .006” off center and a motor being .17” too big? Apparently $200,000.

10/05/2009 12:31 PM

now how exactly does dale jr being more ‘focused’ prevent him from having a loose lug nut and losing the oil pump belt? you sure like to judge but can’t take any criticism..time to come out of the closet matt

Dyno Dave
10/05/2009 12:33 PM

Yeah, I agree with Mark – I sure didn’t realize there were a LOT of things not to like about Tony Stewart. Like what exactly? Maybe in the interest of keeping us race fans informed we can get a top ten list at some point.

Kevin in SoCal
10/05/2009 12:46 PM

Read the current news pieces again. The #48 and the #5 were NOT told they could not bring the cars back to the track. In fact, the #48 team has already said they are bringing the same car to Charlotte. NASCAR simply warned them the cars were very close to the tolerance and they might want to take a look at it before an adjustment or modification later on before the next race makes the cars illegal.

Would you be happier with Fontana still on Labor Day and Atlanta in the Chase? Be happy that NASCAR pulled their heads out of their butts long enough to make that decision. So far its been successful, with Atlanta having a great race and much more people in the stands than in March. We’ll see this weekend how Fontana does with their new date. I know I’ll be at the track enjoying the race. I’m the king of closed-mindedness but at least I watch every race with no preconceived notions of what I’m about to watch. Or maybe I’m just a dumbass who’s easily entertained…

10/05/2009 12:51 PM

Gee, 10 people voted ZERO beers for the Kansas race yesterday
Maybe they drank all the beer at their house and passed out before the race even started
Get your NASCAR hater goggles off would ya!
It was a much better race than zero beers
Admit it!

Bad Wolf
10/05/2009 12:57 PM

I’d like to see what Nascar would do to Robby Gordon if the inspector blew on his car and it went out .0001 (thats one ten thousandth to you non machinists out there).

10/05/2009 01:04 PM

Mr. McLaughlin, what exactly should Jr be refocusing on? He did his part. He didn’t call for an inopportune pit stop, he didn’t leave the lug nut off, he didn’t ask for another inopportune pit stop, he didn’t adjust the car to loose, and he didn’t remove the oil pump belt. Think before you speak.

10/05/2009 01:05 PM

bad wolf…..

they’d crucify robby gordon. they’d fine, deduct points and suspend someone. na$car sure hates the owner/driver.

10/05/2009 01:13 PM

To tell you how much my once fanatical interest in nas$car has waned, I didn’t know who won the race till football was over. This is coming from a fan of 30 Years. And now California. Snore time.

10/05/2009 03:05 PM

There were more lead changes because there were two whole rounds of green flag pit stops. Usually, whenever there are green flag pit stops the number of lead changes is artificially inflated. As such, the fact that there were fewer cautions at Kansas than usual is why the lead change record was broken.

10/05/2009 04:18 PM

I’ve often wondered what NASCAR would do if Ford had won all these races this year. It seems it always OK for Chevy to win tons of races. You know if Chevy went a year with only 2 wins NASCAR would be changing the rules to favor the Chevy.

The Turnip
10/05/2009 04:37 PM

Hey Paul!!

I am going to try to explain “what I think” the .006” vs. the .070” is. BECAUSE in typical NA$CRAP fashion they don’t really spell it out, so here goes:

First, I think the the measurement has a MAX dimension. Then a “tolerance” of +.070”!

So, if the dimension (spec) was 1.000 inches, the total limit would be 1.070”

But, it appears the car(s) actually measured 1.006”, thus they were still under the absolute max of 1.070” by .064”.

Again, I used 1.000” as an example.

Me thinks this is what NA$CRAP was really getting at!

And again I ask the question???? As a really stupid TURNIP!


What happens if another car, NOT INSPECTED, fails this dimension next week? SUSPENSION? FINES? POINTS DEDUCTED? All because NA$CRAP did not warn them?


Credibility my friend, it is a matter of credibility!

There is none in NA$CRAP racing!

It is theater! Plain & simple!

10/05/2009 09:21 PM

I’m quite sure Carl Long can give an explanation of .006.

10/06/2009 08:27 AM


i thought jim hunter gave a good explanation as to why they warned the teams not to bring those cars back. he basically said they were so close that it is way too risky. he said it was asking a lot to put that much faith in nascar to be able to fixture the car the same exact way and come up with the same exact measurement. when you are talking about tolerances that close the least little thing could have caused them to be out. the way it sounded to me was that the cars were right there on the edge and if the wind blew a certain way it would have knocked them out of tolerance. so nascar was basically saying if you bring these cars back you are taking a pretty big risk that everything is gonna line up and measure the EXACT rather than take a chance and force nascar’s hand at handing down penalties just go back and give yourselves a little more cushion.

as far as another car or team failing this is why they made this public. basically so everyone knows to not play it that close.

10/06/2009 09:03 PM

Wow, so much for the gray area. Smokey Yunick, the Wood Brothers, Holman and Moody, these guys wouldn’t stand a dawgs chance in todays NASCAR. I hate it, absolutely. Nobody can do anything innovative. I long for the days when King Brian abdicates for Nose Candy.